Portugal was on my bucket list for quite some time, and I could never seem to find the right time to go because I always felt compelled to take 2-3 weeks to see it all. Back in September, I came to the realization that I was tired of procrastinating and decided to take the trip. I only had four days, so I decided to park myself in Lisbon to make the most out of the trip, and settle for seeing the country in bits and pieces rather than all at once.
Here’s how I spent 4 days in Lisbon:
Day 1: Exploring the City
I usually purchase a hop on/hop off bus ticket just for the ride, not for the tour. One thing I discovered, however, is that these buses in Lisbon operate fairly infrequently and without a regimented schedule. I nevertheless bought a ticket just to get to the farthest points on the city map. My first stop was Belem, a waterfront district west of the city with beautiful monuments, museums and relaxing parks. After I left the Torre de Belem, I decided it was time for a mandatory stop at the Pasteis de Belem for one (or three) custard tarts.
Tip: I chose to walk from Belem back to the city centre because I didn’t want to wait for the bus, which actually turned out to be a big mistake. While I love to walk, I discovered that it takes approximately 2 hours to walk from Belem to the city centre, along a busy highway with nothing to see. If I could turn back time, I would have hopped on the metro.
Since I spent the better part of the day in Belem, and then walking back from Belem, I didn’t really have time to do anything else. I was starving by the time I returned, so I stopped in Praça do Comércio for some food and people watching. In lieu of all the calories I burned, I then treated myself to ice cream while I sat by the water and listened to a guitarist who was entertaining the crowd.
Day 2: Sintra
Sintra is a small medieval town nestled between the Sintra Mountains just outside of Lisbon. It requires a full day trip, and can be accessed by a very reasonably priced commuter train. Sintra is mainly for tourists, but is nevertheless beautiful. It’s a mountainous town and offers a local bus to shuttle tourists between sites. When I arrived, the line for the bus seemed almost endless, so I decided to walk (this time with no regrets). The centre of town is comprised of stunning colonial architecture and is bustling with cafes, restaurants, and shops.
I later learned that the palaces and castles that I came to see were actually up on the mountain and the centre of town was only at the base. Again, there is a local shuttle bus that takes visitors up the mountain, but I couldn’t bring myself to wait in the lines, so I decided to hike. It took me just over an hour to get to Castelos dos Mouros, and the trail wasn’t technically challenging at all. After visiting the Palacio Nacional de Pena, I didn’t really feel hiking again, so I sucked it up and joined the line for the bus. Aside from the fact that the bus was packed to the brim and I thought I was going to catapult through the front window every time it stopped, it was a good alternative after a long day of hiking in the heat.
I stopped to grab a bite to eat before heading back down to the train station to go home.
Day 3: Exploring the City (Again)
Because of my unexpected trek back from Belem on Day 1, I didn’t get to see a number of sights in the city centre, so I used this day as a second attempt. Between my stops for pastry and Sagres beer, I was able to visit Jerónimos Monastery, Castelo de São Jorge, and the Lisbon Cathedral.
Tip: Castelo de São Jorge offers great views of the city, and is a great place to sit, relax, and take it all in.
Day 4: Cascais
I don’t think my first trip to Portugal would be complete without a trip to the beach, and luckily, I was able to get to the beach with a direct train ride from the city centre. The train ride is approximately 1 hour long, and costs 4EUR. The pace in Cascais is definitely slower than the city centre, and it’s ideal for taking a leisurely stroll. I spent my day lounging on the beach and walking around the town.
I was quite happy with my four days in Lisbon and look forward to going back to Portugal to see the rest of the country!